While developing countries in the tropics have received a lot of attention for their deforestation emissions (one thinks of Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia), emissions from logging—considered forest cover change—in wealthy northern countries has been largely overlooked by the media. It seems industrialized countries prefer it this way: a new study reveals just how these countries are planning to hide forestry-related emissions, allowing nations such as Canada, Russia, and the EU to contribute to climate change without penalty.
Complied by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the study found that only Switzerland has been open and transparent about its forestry emissions.
“It’s extremely disappointing that Canada and other developed countries, including the members of the European Union, New Zealand and Australia, are cheating on their targets and proposing to sweep increased emissions from logging under the rug so they don’t have to account for them,” Chris Henschel said in a press release by CPAWS. Henschel is an international expert on the UN negotiations on Land Use and Forestry and senior conservation manager with CPAWS.
Clear cut logging in the north: Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
The study shows that most industrialized nations have set a “projected baseline” for their forestry-related emissions. In other words, the country will only be penalized for carbon emissions if they go above their projected baseline (which the countries set themselves), allowing them to emit a certain amount of carbon with impunity. For example, the projected baseline of New Zealand allows the country to emit almost 200 percent more carbon from future forestry activities than its current forestry-related emissions. In addition to New Zealand, the projected baseline scheme is being employed by Canada, Australia, Japan, and the EU. The study gives each of these countries—the EU included—a failing grade.
In all, the study estimates that during the next Kyoto commitment period (post 2012) industrialized countries will be allowed to emit approximately one gigaton of carbon without penalty, thereby hampering efforts to lower total emissions.
“We’d expected Canada and other countries, especially the EU, to take a much stronger leadership role in proposing rules for developed countries that would honestly account for emissions and stimulate greater forest conservation,” says Henschel. “Instead we’re seeing nearly every country trying to cheat the climate and forests.”
The EU’s stance was a surprise since historically it has pushed the most of the industrialized nations to curb carbon emissions.
Nations which have not established a projected baseline have found other ways to hide their forestry emissions according to the study. Russia chose an historic baseline of 1990, which allows the country to increase logging by nearly 60 percent over the next fifty years without penalty since its forest cover has increased since 1990. In addition, it has said it will not consider any forestry-related emissions until its vast boreal forests became a net contributor of carbon giving it a free ride in forestry over the long-term. Norway also chose 1990 for the simple reason that this baseline allows the country, like Russia, to get away with not lowering its forestry emissions.
Since it is not a signatory of the Kyoto Treaty the United States has avoided paying any price for its forestry emissions and has yet to establish its position.
It should be noted that industrialized countries are not participating in deforestation according to its current definition, which means land-use change, i.e. converting a forest into agriculture. But emissions from logging—considered a change in forest cover—are still large, especially in primary growth forests where upsetting soils and destroying old-growth biomass releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
“Protecting natural forests helps us fight climate change; cutting forests makes it worse,” says Henschel. “Incentives for developed countries to stimulate greater forest conservation are critical in the next climate change agreement. Canada’s boreal forests alone are estimated to hold close to 200 megatonnes of carbon within their trees and soils.”
To view scorecard: www.makeforestscount.org
(11/25/2009) A study by Britain’s Forestry Commission found that planting 23,000 hectares of forest every year for the next 40 years would lower the island nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent, according to reporting by the BBC.
(11/12/2009) A new report states that boreal forests store nearly twice as much carbon as tropical forests per hectare: a fact which researchers say should make the conservation of boreal forests as important as tropical in climate change negotiations. The report from the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Boreal Songbird Initiative, entitled “The Carbon the World Forgot”, estimates that the boreal forest—which survives in massive swathes across Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, and Russia—stores 22 percent of all carbon on the earth’s land surface. According to the study the boreal contains 703 gigatons of carbon, while the world’s tropical forests contain 375 gigatons.
(09/13/2009) This March, the Canadian province of Quebec pledged to conserve 50 percent of its boreal forest lying north of the 49th parallel, protecting the region from industrial, mining, and energy development. On Thursday 500 scientists and conservation professionals—65 percent of whom have PhDs—sent a letter to Quebec’s Premier Jean Charest calling on him to make good on his promise.
(08/12/2009) Boreal forests in some of the world’s wealthiest countries are being rapidly destroyed by human activities — including mining, logging, and purposely-set fires — report researchers writing in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
(07/17/2009) The Obama administration moved this week to allow clear-cutting of 381 acres (154 ha) of primary temperate rainforest in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, reports the Environmental News Service (ENS).
(02/15/2009) A new report released by Australian conservation groups The Wilderness Society and Still Wild, Still Threatened shows that despite claims to the contrary, Japanese paper manufacturers are the purchasers of wood chips derived from the destruction of Tasmania’s old growth forests.
(01/03/2008) North American forests are storing less carbon due to warmer autumns, reports a study published in the journal Nature by an international team of researchers.
(05/03/2007) Reforesting marginal agricultural land could significantly slow the increase of carbon in the atmosphere reports a new study based on NASA data, though it would be no magic bullet in fighting global warming since temperate forests have been shown to increase regional temperatures by absorbing more sunlight. Still, reforestation has the potential to offer other ancillary benefits including watershed services and erosion control.
(09/25/2006) Boreal forests provide services worth $250 billion per year globally according to estimates by Canadian researchers. Mark Anielski, an Edmonton economist, says that environmental services from the boreal — including carbon capture and storage, water filtration and waste treatment, biodiversity maintenance, and pest control — are worth about $160 per hectare, or $93 billion per year in Canada alone.
(01/05/2006) Logging increases the risk of fire according to a new assessment in the aftermath of a large fire in Oregon. The study also found that undisturbed areas may be at lower fire risk.